Lessons from a Mentor: Growth and Balance


Hello fellow Elitetrackers,

It’s been a while since I’ve given an entry here and I apologize for that. Sometimes life gets in the way but that shouldn’t be an excuse. Speaking of life, a huge moment is on the horizon for me this coming weekend. That moment is my wedding day and it’s the inspiration for this entry.

If you’re on the right track in coaching, you’ve got a number of close people you can look up to as your mentors.If one were to ask you what were the most important lessons instilled in you by your mentor what would it be? For me not one but two things immediately come to mind. The first is to never stop learning, never stop growing and never shut down your capacity to learn. The second is being able to draw lines and maintain balance in your work and personal life. Now these may both seem almost cliché and stuff that many of us have heard before, but to get to the point of my entry I feel that it’s not just what’s instilled in you but how it was instilled with you, and that’s what I really want to share.

Both lessons are derived from specific moments in time. One was direct and to the point, the other was indirect, something I had to really step back and take in.

The first moment came right before I was going to start my final semester as an undergrad. At that point I had already been offered and accepted my first coaching job upon my graduation. It was the first week of school and I stepped into my mentor’s office to seek guidance (what a surprise!) in my last few months before starting my coaching career. I asked about course loads I could take, certifications I could gain or even specific books to read. With an almost blank stare he looked at me for a brief moment as I anxiously waited for his words of wisdom. Instead of words I got action. He turned around and opened a desk cabinet and pulled out a heavy stack of papers that seemed to be almost two feet high. He slammed it down and I could feel the puzzled look on my face. After giving me a second to take everything in he finally spoke: “See this stack? This stack at the beginning of the summer was over twice this size. I read every single thing I could get my hands on, kept what I felt made sense, was relevant, figured out what didn’t make sense or was repetitive in relation to what I know and got rid of it. I pulled a little from here, a little from there, and what I didn’t like I don’t use. If you want to get better at this and be good at it you’ve gotta keep up.” Hearing this coming from a man that had been coaching for over two decades at major schools, coaching numerous all conference athletes, all Americans, and even Olympians to see him as such a student of the craft was a very powerful notion that has stayed with me to this day and I don’t ever see it changing.

The second moment is one where I was actually an observer. Practice was at 3 pm and one of our top athletes was nowhere to be found. No email, no phone call, no text, nothing. Time goes one and the athlete is still not yet at practice. Finally right around 5:30 rolls around and the athlete comes strolling in. Without going into details as to his explanation for why he didn’t come in, he simply ended with, “It’s all good though coach! I’m here and I got all the time in the world! We can do this (practice)!” After a few moments of silence his response still give me chills and is one of the many reasons I respect this man today: “Alright, you do that. I’m glad you’ve got time. But you know what I’m gonna do? You know what I’ve got time for? I’m gonna go home… I’m gonna go home to my wife and my two daughters. I’m gonna go home now because by the time I get there I’ve only so much time with them each day before they go to sleep and I have to wait and see them again until the next day when I get home and put them to bed all over again. So that’s what I’m gonna do and that’s what I’ve got time for.” And without saying another word, he turned around and walked out.

The message was heard loud and clear by the athlete. At least on his end he got his version of the message. For me the root of what he was really saying is something I try to live by while in this profession. It is something that will become more and more important to me every day after this weekend, as I am marrying the love of my life. While I love this sport and all that is involved in it, I love my family and will always maintain a separation of my profession and my priorities as a husband, family member, and eventual father as best I can. Maintaining a healthy balance of work and personal life and being able to have lines and maintain my personal well being, because that is what really will give one true longevity and vitality for what they do.
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Gabe Sanders

Gabe Sanders

Track & Field Coach at Boston University
Gabe Sanders enters his fourth season as an assistant coach with the Boston University track and field programs in 2011-12 as the program's sprints, long hurdles and sprint relays coach and recruiting coordinator. Since joining the Terriers, Sanders' event areas have not only become a dominant force both at the America East and regional levels but at the national level as well. Sanders earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in kinesiology with a major in sport management and communication from the University of Michigan in December 2005. He is currently pursing a master's degree in physical education and coaching from BU and is a USA Track and Field Level I and II certified coach in the sprints, hurdles, relays and jumping events. Sanders is also certified to teach USATF Level I curriculum by the USATF ITC.
Gabe Sanders


Director of XC AND T&F - Boston University
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